Imparting wisdom is like baking a delicious dish, taking it to a potluck, and leaving it on the table with a serving spoon next to it amidst the other dishes. Imparting wisdom is inviting. It is intriguing. The choice of whether or not to try to the dish is left to whoever decides to lift the spoon and serve themselves. Giving unsolicited advice is like baking a dish, taking it to a potluck, and walking around spooning mouthfuls into people’s mouths without asking if they would care to try it. It’s awkward. It’s forceful. And it might cause allergic reactions.

When it comes to becoming a parent and raising children, you will be on the receiving end of both of these experiences and forms of communication many times. I hope you can learn, or have learned, to discern the difference between them. If you haven’t, well, pull up a seat.

Why, when it comes to parenting, does everyone seem to have something to say? First, let’s back up. As human beings, we are wired for connection. This is a good thing. This goes beyond your pre-existing make-up of whether or not you happen to be introverted or extroverted. We are designed to be in community and to form connections with others by purposefully stepping out of our comfort zones in order to grow and feel a part of something bigger than ourselves.

Perhaps you recognize this on a spiritual level by way of worship. Various world religions emphasize the importance of community by gathering to observe the sabbath, celebrate high holy days, by joining together for prayer and to study religious texts, or simply passing the peace in a service.

If you are a mammal, then what you need more than anything to survive is social connection.

If you are not so inclined to the spiritual explanation and experience of why we need connection, there is also the scientific argument. Perhaps you have seen or studied Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. If you are unfamiliar, here is the short version: Picture a pyramid divided up like a food pyramid. This pyramid is intended for understanding our basic human needs. Maslow’s pyramid suggests that our physical needs (food, water, and shelter) are the base of the pyramid. In recent years this theory has been challenged. One of those challengers is neuroscientist Matthew Leiberman, Ph.D., who, based on his research and findings suggests that “If you are a mammal, (and I’m pretty sure all of you are), then what you need more than anything to survive is social connection. Because mammals are born immature-incapable of taking care of themselves, each one of (us) only survived infancy because someone had such an urge to connect with (us) that every time they were separated from you or heard you cry, it caused them a pain that motivated them to come find you and help you over and over again.” Leiberman’s research on the subject would suggest that the foundation of the pyramid is not our physical needs, but our social needs.

Now then, back to the potluck.

The other day I was speaking with a young woman who is soon to be a mother of her first child. She was sharing with me how some people in her life are already giving her advice about how to take care of her child, how to dress her child, and how to decorate or not decorate the nursery. Her annoyance was obvious. She was being spoon-fed the dish at the potluck. She never served herself any of this. I immediately identified with how she felt. I remember it oh too well. My personal favorite piece of advice is always: “Sleep when your baby sleeps”. Because if that is how it works then I’ll just drive carpool when my baby drives carpool…?

Giving unsolicited advice is a selfish act.

While our motive to connect might just be that simple–a basic human need–the way in which these connections are formed seem to be more delicate when it comes to parenting. This might be true because a key ingredient to honest connection is listening. Generally speaking, when one is giving unsolicited advice there is not much listening happening at all. It is an egotistical way of serving oneself dressed in a disguise of “offering help” to someone else. It actually has nothing to do with the person being given advice and everything to do with the person dishing it out hearing him or herself talk. Giving unsolicited advice is a selfish act. This is alienating to the recipient and can lead to resentment, rebellion, and disconnection. So, that got us nowhere. When someone offers you unsolicited advice recognize that the spoon full of the mystery dish is coming towards your mouth and slowly back away.

Is there a time and a place for advice at all? Of course, there is. When it is solicited. I encountered a completely opposite situation when a different soon-to-be first-time mother recently came to my house with a legal pad and pen in hand. She had questions listed under topics pertaining to the general care and well being for a newborn. At her request, we walked through the house as she pointed to various items (such as a humidifier that looks like an elephant) and she would ask: “What’s that? Do I need that? What does it do?” She had taken it upon herself to gather information and, yes, advice. It was fun! We laughed a lot and she hopefully got some questions answered.

If you have something valuable to offer, you will be sought out.

Imparting wisdom is not disguised as anything. It is what it is, take it or leave it. It is honesty. It is listening. It is a vulnerable conversation. In order to leave someone in their own power to make decisions that are in alignment with who they are, you gotta leave the dish on the table. People are smart. If you have something valuable to offer, you will be sought out. And when you are sought out, you have the choice to spoon-feed or to guide someone into a knowing that they are capable of serving themselves exactly what they need.

We all need social connection to survive. It is who we are by design! We can honor this by moving away from short-changing ourselves and giving in to lower forms of communication. We can honor our entire community, our families, and ourselves by being clear in our intentions and the ways in which we choose to connect. Happy Pot-lucking!

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